Ever since the iOS platform started proving itself as a viable option for professional music makers, the virtual instrument and audio recording apps have been popping up thick and fast. In fact, it’s safe to say, nobody could have predicted just how quickly it has grown, and how popular it has become.
While the software side of things has been nothing short of inspiring, the hardware/peripheral side of iOS making music has been a little slow to grow a decent range of options on the market.
Of course, the earliest and still the most popular solution for hooking up a keyboard to an iOS device, is to use a standard issue USB music keyboard in combination with an Apple camera connector kit, which usually does the trick, but it can depend on how much power the keyboard draws as to whether it will work or not.
This brings me to the keyboard I’ve been road testing for the past few weeks, which is one of the first professional quality, purpose built keyboard controller for iOS devices.
Creator of the infamous POD guitar amp simulator, Line 6, has steadily been growing its range of iOS music peripherals, with the latest additions being the Mobile Keys 25 and Mobile Keys 49.
I’ve been playing with the larger of the two, which as the name suggests, offers 49 keys in total, or 4 octaves. Both of Line 6’s Mobile Keys controllers offer exactly the same features and functionality, with the 25 keys model being more conveniently sized for music making on the go.
The thing that struck me when first taking the keyboard out of the box, was how sturdy it feels. It’s pretty chunky, but in a good way, and the overall design is simple but also stylish.
To the left of the main keyboard area on the front, is a full size spring-loaded Pitch and standard Modulation wheels, and just above these are Volume and Pan controls, and then just above these are octave up and down buttons, and a Shift button which is used for accessing advanced settings including MIDI channel and program changes. Once again, these wheels, dials and buttons all feel like they’re built to last.
On the rear of the keyboard are ¼-inch jack inputs for Sustain and Expression pedals which are assignable via MIDI. There is a USB port so the keyboard can be used with a Mac or PC as a MIDI controller, and last but by no means least there is the all-important Mobile port, which allows you to connect the keyboard directly to an iOS device, using the included cable.
Aside from this last unique I/O port, the other big selling point of the Line 6 Mobile Keys controllers, are that they have been specially designed to draw minimum power when connected to an iOS device. Obviously the big advantage straight away is, that you don’t need to worry about powering the keyboard, which means you can go completely mobile with this set up even when no AC power is available, but also you can expect to get decent battery life still from you iOS device, as they keyboard has been designed to draw less than 100mA. This is also a bonus for laptop users that have low powered USB ports.
So that’s the features and ports explained, now back to the keyboard itself. Now I’m no virtuoso on the piano, but I’ve owned a handful of synths and MIDI controllers over the years, so I know what to expect from them.
Like most half decent controllers these days, the Mobile Keys 49 offers full-size, velocity-sensitive keys. They’re not weighted, but they still feel good under the fingers, and there is zero lag between hitting the keys and hearing the sounds in an app. One feature worth noting is the ability to adjust the Velocity Curve in the advanced settings, so you can customise the response of the keys to the way you like to play.
Essentially, there’s not really much more to the physical aspects of the Mobile Keys 49 that I haven’t covered.
I’ve had the keyboard running with GarageBand, NanoStudio, SampleTank, iMS-20, Animoog, and Arctic Keys, and it performed flawlessly on all occasions. Some needed a slight tweak in the setting, but that’s about all. I could have tried more apps, but given the keyboard’s full support for CoreMIDI, I’m assuming I’d enjoy the same success with all other apps offering the same support.
Out of interest, I also fired the keyboard up with my Mac via USB, and it worked like a charm with the virtual instruments I had loaded in Pro Tools.
The bottom line is, if you require a single keyboard that you can easily switch between your iOS device and your computer MIDI studio, that isn’t a power hog, the Line 6 keyboards are a quality, take anywhere solution.
The suggested retail price for Mobile Keys 25 is US$149.99, and Mobile Keys 49 is US$199.99.
For more details on both keyboards, head to the Line 6 website – http://line6.com/mobilekeys/
Thanks to MusicLink Australia for providing the Line 6 Mobile Keys 49 to review.